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Finally, an update.

Sorry it's been awhile since the last newspost. The truth is, we've really had our noses to the grindstone, working very hard and trying to get the game, and our various administration infrastructure, ready for marketing over this coming summer. "Summer" being just a couple of months away, so you can imagine we have a lot to get done, which is why I haven't been poking my head up as often to write newsposts or comment on the Suggestions forum. There are a lot of projects going on in parallel lately, I'll just cover a few high points that you should see manifesting over the next couple of weeks:

I've spent most of this week upgrading the hardware and software on the machine that serves our Trac system, as well as email and other functionality. Part of the historical problem with exposing Trac, was that if people found it interesting, the machine would be crushed under the load of serving (the machine was slow, Trac is also kind of.. slow). This is now vastly improved (about 50 times faster, literally), and it should be able to handle a pretty decent amount of traffic (digg/slashdotting? who knows, perhaps we'll find out). In any case, it's at least feasible now, and there are some simple fallbacks we can use if we have to scale up capacity in a hurry. I'm not saying that I'm exposing Trac next week, I still have a lot of work to do on the content, but I am shooting for a significant (and publicized) release in early summer. I know I've set and blown a lot of different goals for releasing our forward design documentation (via our Trac/Wiki), but this one's pretty concrete, and we're gearing up in a lot of different ways.. which I'll go into below. Making sure the machine won't totally explode is one small piece of the puzzle.

The other thing I'm bringing online with that same machine, this week, is the Vendetta Online email list. We've had this little check-mark thing in the user info for.. ever, saying "hey, do you want to receive email from us, game updates, event news, etc?" But, we've never actually gotten the email list online. I should have this running by later today, and next week Andy will be tying it into our database and web system. An email list may seem like a pretty boring thing to be adding, but we see it as one step towards having a more cohesive community, where we can announce different Events and things going on in the game (which is also incentive to.. actually have more things going on in the game), and hopefully bring our community together a bit more. I think it'd be really cool to set up some big events, and send out some emails and try to get a whole bunch of people on at once. It'd be useful for our scalability testing as well.

This will be work hand-in-hand with various other, related, non-game changes.. like making the PCC into a fully "production" quality system. Player Contribution Corps members can testify that we've been making quite a lot of changes and improvements to the mission editor over the past month or two, and we're going to continue with this over the coming month. Once the PCC system is considered "release" quality, rather than the various alpha/beta stages we've had over the past year or two, we'll probably do a related press release. I expect the PCC system to be released and integrated into the website as a whole, within the next few weeks.

Ray has been completely reworking how the game is aware of player-usable content. Such as ships, addons, trade items, ores, etc. Much of this has been held in static Lua files to date, and this has been slowly moved into the database over the last couple of months. The whole point of this being to let us add new items more quickly and have greater control over how they're put into the game, and even manipulate them dynamically. Historically, we've always had to do a client patch and release in order to add or change any little thing (from a ship's mass to a weapon's ammo capacity or firing effect). This has caused us to be rather.. slow about adding new "Stuff" into the game, and Ray's new setup should be far more elegant. Of course, it's taking him some time, since we keep pulling him off task to fix bugs, or add functionality for someone else's project, or the other day-to-day stuff that comes up. Regardless, this is a long-term project, and it's coming along well, and I just wanted to give an update on that.

On the more short-term front, we're looking at putting some potentially very cool (and unexpected) new functionality into our client Rather Soon Now. But, we cannot discuss the specifics of it at this time, due to confidentiality agreements and other developments in the works. Things are still a bit tentative, but if integration goes well, you'll be seeing it within weeks (not months).

Aside from PCC changes, I've had Andy doing some rather boring, but necessary improvements to our signup system and administrative consoles. Basically, we're looking at doing quite a bit of marketing within a couple of months (July?), and when that happens, we need to put our best foot forward while keeping our administrative overhead as low as possible. The more time we spend talking to confused users who subscribed the wrong trial account and want their characters moved, the less time we spend actually making the game better, and this will only get worse with more new users. In addition, we're going to be expanding the trial period to 16 hours, along with.. a lot of other changes, mostly minor but significant to us. You should see this take shape over the next couple of weeks.

Gameplay! Yes, we're still working on that too. Next week I'll be taking another look at Border Skirmish and our other recent gameplay, and see about pushing that to the next level, along with getting back to basics on fixing the faction system and economy. Both of those are huge, and we may be hard pressed to pull together the resources to make them happen within 2 months, but we're gonna try to improve things as much as we can. We may have a need for further large-scale Border Skirmish testing as well, to get a fairly solid idea of exactly what we can push on the server side, so we may be using the new email list to bring in a lot of players to participate at once in multiple skirmishes, and see how that works.

I need to re-organize a lot of content on the Trac system, and write a bunch more, before it's ready to roll, but as I stated earlier.. that's actually going to be something we're going to announce with some publicity by early summer, so I'll be spending a lot of time on Design over the coming weeks. Because of this, I may continue to.. not be real visible. I still scan the Suggestions forums, and I reply if necessary; but I've been trying to stay focused and Get Stuff Done Right Now. I am sorry that more of our productivity hasn't been real visible, except perhaps to the PCC people (who seem more inspired by our changes, which is great!). Of course, the PCC people can't really talk about PCC stuff publicly, so you'd probably never hear. You'll have to take my word for it that we're working our respective asses off, and that's the only reason for the somewhat sporadic presence of myself and others on the forums and in-game. Personally, I am the most focused and productive that I have been in, well, years, which I take as a very good sign. So, again, sorry it hasn't been all that visible in terms of content drops, but a hell of a lot's going on behind the scenes, and I think you'll start seeing it bubbling to the surface over the next week or two.

Going back to the Suggestions forums again: please DO continue posting, there've been some good ideas and discussions on there lately. Ones that I would have liked to have weighed in on, but I tend to write large, involved posts that take up a lot of my time, and well.. see the time-management stuff above. But, please be aware that I AM reading the posts, and would like to continue seeing that feedback. As I get deeper into updating Trac, you may see me reviving some older threads, looking for additional commentary, before it gets Officially rolled into our design docs. So, please continue the feedback on Suggestions, it is well received, even if you aren't seeing as many of my replies as you used to. Umm.. come to think of it, after I finish writing this, I'll be posting on Suggestions, asking for Border Skirmish feedback, so feel free to post your impressions.. I'll be considering them next week when I'm re-assessing that aspect of the game.

Last but not least, we also have some server rearchitecture work to do, which will bring about some scheduled outages, hopefully very short. Michael and Andy have completely redone how server startups are handled, it's faar more elegant now, which is a big benefit to our ongoing administration and maintenance (server startup become a hell of a lot more complicated with Kourier and such, and that's been simplified). We're also renumbering to a new and larger netblock, moving to a VRRP enabled routing setup on the upstream side (redundant router fallover, less likelihood of downtime), migrating three servers around and bringing three more online, all of which should make for a VO server cluster capable of handling a significant player influx and a lot of intensive gameplay (Skirmishes, etc). An additional 10-megabit permanent torrent seed is coming online, which should speed up new downloads even further, etc etc.

Anyway, that about wraps it up for now. I need to go write that Suggestions post, and finish up some of this systems/engineering work. I know none of this is as exciting as us.. I dunno, pilot-able capital ships that land on planets or something, but it's all work we've needed to do for a long time, and it pretty much has to happen before we try taking the game to the next level. As always, thank you all for your support and long-suffering patience. It's these times when we (the developers) are the most silent, that are usually the hardest on our userbase. And yet, our silence only stems from the intensity and focus being applied to the game which carries our collective hopes.